Strauss, Johann II: 19 Waltzes (CD review)

Willi Boskovsky, the Johann Strauss Orchestra of Vienna. Warner Classics 0094638152422 (2-disc set).

According to what I've read about Austrian violinist and conductor Willi Boskovsky (1909-1991), his orchestras didn't particularly like him as a music director. Nevertheless, from playing violin with the Vienna Philharmonic he went on to leading the orchestra in music largely of Johann Strauss in the Fifties, and audiences adored him, which is all that mattered. His Decca recordings from those early years are still among the yardsticks by which people judge Strauss music today. By the early Seventies, however, he was recording for EMI with the Johann Strauss Orchestra of Vienna, and he re-recorded most of the major Strauss repertoire for them. Then, when digital entered the scene, he re-recorded them yet again. You might say he became a specialist in the field. What we have in this 2007 rerelease from Warner Classics of the original EMI set is a collection of nineteen of Strauss's most famous waltzes from the early digital age of the Eighties.

Interestingly, many of these digital recordings are more sprightly and open than his analogue recordings with the same orchestra had been a decade before. The digital sound is less warm and less full, true, but the sound is a bit more detailed and carries with it little obvious digital brightness or edginess. More important, the performances themselves are a fraction quicker and more spontaneous, a delight in every way, almost matching his Decca renditions of much earlier. Although, to be fair, I still think the Vienna recordings are richer and more elegant than any of Boskovsky's later productions.

Willi Boskovsky
Among the nineteen waltzes on these two Warner discs are practically everything you've ever heard of: "The Blue Danube," of course, "Roses from the South," "Vienna Blood," "Voices of Spring," "Artist's Life," "Tales from the Vienna Woods," "Emperor Waltz," "Morning Papers," "Accelerations," "Lagoon Waltz," "Du und Du," "Wine, Women and Song," "Danube Maiden," and a few you might not have heard of like "Literary Essay," "Leading Article," "Pamphlets," and "Flight of Fancy."

It's a terrific collection of waltzes, really, at an incredibly reasonable price. One minor concern, though. The booklet lists "Tales from the Vienna Woods" as being recorded with Rudi Knabl on zither, and the booklet article notes the piece "with its important part for the zither." But not here; there's not a zither in sight or sound. The original EMI booklet notes correctly list the work's recording date as 1982, but in that recording Boskovsky chose to bypass the zither and use a violin. At the time of putting together this collection, EMI must have been thinking of Boskovsky's 1985 recording, which I had on hand, where he reinstated the instrument with Mr. Knabl playing it. I can only guess that the mix-up was an oversight on EMI's part, a confusion not hard to understand given that Boskovsky recorded "Tales" at least four times in stereo: 1963, 1972, 1982, and 1985.

I prefer the zither, by the way, but other than that there is no reason not to enjoy the set fully.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa